8 Ways To Keep Picnic Food Warm


There are many different methods to keep picnic food warm. Including some DIY methods you might prefer to consider. That is to say, either because you do not have time to sort anything else out. Or you would rather not buy additional picnic products.

The method or methods you choose to go for would depend on:

  1. what food you are planning to take with you and
  2. how you are planning to take it to your picnic.

The most important thing is that you need to make sure most of the container is filled with the food. So the container should have as little free space as possible.

This is because the heat will stay inside the container more effectively. As a result your picnic food will keep warmer for longer.

You can fill in large gaps in the container so your food remains warmer for longer. You can do this by tightly packing a towel to fill in the space.

Additionally the more layers of insulation you use the longer the picnic food will stay warm. So you may want to consider using more than one method depending on the type of picnic food you have.

I am also going to cover some DIY methods of keeping food warm further down this article.

1. Picnic Coolers

Picnic coolers are great not just for keeping food and drinks cold. They are also perfect for keeping them warm or hot. There are the hard cooler boxes which are good. However they weigh quite a bit on their own, even before you place any food into them.

So you could opt for a lighter weight bag instead. These bags have the ability to keep picnic food warm for many hours and you can reuse them.

They come in plain, but nice designs like this fabric Lifewit soft cooler bag. This picnic cooler is one of the best rated and most reviewed picnic coolers on Amazon. It is made up of durable and water resistant Oxford fabric. The fabric is lined with food grade PEVA foil and padded with insulation material and comes in 2 different colours, grey or black.

You can fit quite a lot in this bag as it can take up to 23 litres. It’s definitely a plus because it enabled you to take many items with you.

2. Insulated Picnic Baskets and Backpacks

There are many varieties of picnic baskets and backpacks. That is to say not just of different sizes, but all sorts of designs and patterns.

The only issue with them is if you need to keep the food upright. In this case picnic baskets or backpacks are not a good idea. So it is good if you think about what you might want to take to your picnics in the future. If it doesn’t matter that food moves around then picnic baskets and backpacks are a good solution.

Some of these picnic baskets come with insulation, including the wicker ones. Some other wicker baskets come with a small cooler bag that fits inside. However these small coolers have very limited space so you are certainly not going to fit a dish.

However there are also picnic backpacks you might want to consider. They are great because you do not have to carry anything in your hands. The straps are secure and comfortable so they do not dig in to your shoulders.

If you are interested in either a picnic basket or backpack you can have a look at our top list.

3. Thermos Flask

Most people associate thermos flasks with drinks. However you can also use them for keeping food warm. Especially the sort of food that does not matter whether you squash it into the flask. Like for example pasta, pasta bakes, rice dishes or veggies.

Thermos flasks are fantastic and one of the best solutions you can use to keep picnic food warm. They are amazing at keeping in heat for hours without any drop in temperature.

Thermos flasks are fantastic and one of the best solutions you can use to keep picnic food warm. They are amazing at keeping in heat for hours without any drop in temperature.

The only drawback they have is that they are limited with the amount of space inside. So if you need more space it is better to look at some of the other options listed on this page.

This 2.5 litre OKADI thermos flask is one of largest you can get so you can pack quite a bit in it. It is a vacuum flask with specialised thermal insulation made from glass, IsoTec and stainless steel.

Whenever I use my thermos flask (not this particular model) the contents remain hot for hours. Some people have reported in their reviews that this flask keeps the contents piping hot for longer than 10 hours. You just cannot go wrong with a brand like Thermos. My family have always used Thermos flasks and we were always happy with them.  

4. Insulated Casserole Bag

This is the perfect bag you would want to use for casserole dishes. A good sized dish fits in the bag snuggly. Additionally the dish stays in the same position when you place it in the bag. Unlike a picnic basket which you have to turn on its side to carry.

These bags do not keep the heat in as much as a Thermos flask. This is because the insulation on these bags is not as heavy duty. Since this is a bag, the insulation is thinner to that of a Thermos.

Moreover you have to ensure you do not place food directly from the oven or stove into the bag. You have to leave the food cool for around 15 minutes before you can safely place it into the bag. Otherwise it could damage the bag.

Regardless it does keep food quite warm for a while. After at least an hour you should expect a good bag to keep your food hot like this Rachel Ray Expendable Casserole Carrier.

This insulated casserole carry bag is a double decker size, but there is a smaller sized carrier if you prefer. The larger size has two compartments so you can place two dishes one above the other in each compartment. Otherwise you can use it to store some other things, even items with varying temperatures.

This particular casserole bag has the best rating out of all the casserole bags on Amazon. The inside is easy to wipe clean and it keeps food warm for a good while. You can expect food to be hot for a couple of hours with this bag.  

It is 10″ x 16″ x 5″ (25 x 41 x 12.8 cms) in size and weighs 1.18 pounds (0.54 kg), made out of nylon and leak proof PE foam lining.

5. Insulated Food Containers

Insulated food containers are usually for one person. However there are some insulated bento boxes that could cater for more people.

Insulated food containers do not keep picnic food warm as long as other methods. How long they retain heat would also depend on which brand you buy. Usually they might keep food warm for around an hour or so. From these stackable bento boxes you can expect the food to cool down to a warm temperatures within a couple of hours.   

These insulated bento boxes are spill resistant and are able to fit a large quantity of food inside. Each food container fits an adult sized portion its 5.5″ (14cm) diameter container. So having multiple containers could potentially provide food for a whole family.

They are also easy to open and shut with snap buckles on either end and come with a lunch bag and cutlery. Perfect for taking to work, picnicking or camping.

6. Hot Packs

Hot packs are a great way to keep your picnic food warm. Some packs like the gel packs are incredibly cheap so you can buy several of them. However they might not be the safest option. This is because if they get too hot they can explode. As a result you would want to buy a pack that is specifically designed for keeping food warm like this Vesture hot pack.

This pack can withstand very high temperatures unlike the standard gel packs. All you need to do is microwave it until is hot before you use it. It is FDA-approved and it can handle over one ton of pressure.

If you seal the container with the pack inside properly it can stay hot for many hours. People have said that it can start to go from hot to warm after 8 hours.  

Although a hot pack for food is more expensive, they are reusable. To keep the heat for longer you can wrap a towel around the heat pack or use an insulated container. It is 28.2 x 18.7 x 2.8 cms in size and weighs 1 kg.

7. Keep Picnic Food Warm The DIY Way

Instead of using store bought items you might prefer to use a DIY method to keep picnic food warm.

A standard DIY method to keep your food insulated is to wrap it firstly with foil. After that you should wrap it in many layers of towels to keep the heat inside.

Keep picnic food warm DIY

My mum used to also use some layers of newspapers in between the foil and the towels. Then once she was ready with all the layers she would stick it in the wicker basket.

However you can also place something warm underneath the dish to keep it warmer for longer. Either inside or outside your insulation layers. Depending on what you think will work best.

The idea is that you would heat something that will retain the heat for a long time. Quite a few people suggest using a brick. You would need to place it in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.

However lugging around a brick around does not sound appealing, especially when you will already have enough to carry for your picnic.

Instead you may want to consider carrying something more lightweight. Like for example:

You may not have thought of rice as an option. However both a water bottle or a rice bag work well. The thing about rice is that the grains evenly distribute the heat. That is why it is also a good DIY solution in this case.

You would need to place the rice in a bag that is 100% cotton. Then place it in the microwave to heat it. You will need to heat it sufficiently so that it will keep warm for a while.

Here are video instructions on rice socks:

8. Heat Up Or Cook Picnic Food On Location

While you are at your picnic you might not want to eat your food straight away. As a result the food may cool down depending on the container and the amount of time you leave it. This is an issue if you prefer to have hot food to eat as opposed to warm.

If that is the case then you might want to consider a portable camping stove. They are the ones campers and fishing enthusiasts use when they are out doing their thing.

With a camping stove you can reheat the food or even cook food there and then. So if you prefer cooking on location this is of course another option for having hot picnic food.

If you are carrying many other things a portable stove will weigh you down. However all considering they are not that heavy. Usually they are between 2 – 4kgs which is pretty decent.

This double burner gas stove is 28″ x 15″ x 3.5″ and is one of the heavier ones at 12.1 pounds (5.5kg). Although it is heavier it is convenient since it has the 2 burners. However you need to factor in the weight of the 2 butane gas canisters, one for either side of the stove, which add 1 pound (0.5kg) each in extra weight. You can see how to easily place the gas canisters in this video.

You can regulate the flame of the stove up or down according to what you need. It easily fits a good sized dish across the length of the stove or a couple of pans on each burner.  

Reasons To Take Warm Picnic Food

You might want to take hot instead of cold picnic food for several reasons.

Firstly because you will have one large dish instead of many smaller snacks. It is all about practicality.

One dish takes away a good portion of planning especially if many people are coming along. So your thoughts and time will not be scattered on many different food items.

Secondly if the weather is a little cooler, you want something that is going to warm you up. Warm food will help you stay at a good and comfortable temperature for longer. Otherwise you will not enjoy yourself as much.

Warm food is even nicer with a warm picnic drink during or after your meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you keep picnic food warm?

The different methods or containers you can use are to keep picnic food hot for hours:
1.     Picnic coolers
2.     Insulated picnic baskets or backpacks
3.     Thermos flask
4.     Insulated casserole bag
5.     Insulated food containers
6.     Hot packs
7.     DIY method with foil, towels and a hot bottle or bag
8.     Heat up or cook on location

Are there DIY methods to keep picnic food warm?

You can use tin foil and towels to wrap a dish to ensure the food is kept warm. Additionally you can also place a hot item underneath the dish inside or outside the towel. You can find more details in this article on how to keep picnic food warm.

Which are the best methods to keep picnic food warm?

Thermos flasks or a picnic cooler are the best methods to keep picnic food warmer for longer. However you would need to make sure there is no additional space in the containers. Hot packs are also great in combination with other methods.

Is there anything to transport hot casserole dishes?

There are insulated casserole bags that keep the casserole dishes warm. You can expect them to keep the food warm for over an hour.
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